Obama’s legacy is tarnished as Putin fills the vacuum in Syria

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster,” warned Nietzsche. “For when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Russian tanks rolling into Hama, its air force bombing Idlib, its missiles flying from the Caspian, its fighter jets violating Turkish airspace – all of it backed by the familiar language of the “war on terror” – is the abyss staring back at an America that, in search of monsters to destroy, has helped legitimise monstrous deeds.

Vladimir Putin can face little resistance if he bombs an ambulance in Idlib when a US gunship incinerates a hospital in Kunduz. Bashar Al Assad can get away with murder because he has conveniently pronounced his opponents “terrorists”.

As long as the US carries the dead weight of the war on terror, it will have neither the agility to respond to crises nor the moral authority to restrain its wayward – or inadvertent – allies. When Mr Putin volunteered his forces to join a war on terror in Syria, Mr Obama had little choice but to assent. Russia, unlike the US, however has targeted mainly anti-Assad forces, some of them said to be US-backed. But Washington’s feeble complaints ring hollow when the US has itself set the precedent in targeting anti-ISIL groups.[Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Obama’s legacy is tarnished as Putin fills the vacuum in Syria

  1. Óscar Palacios

    Oh, so the US hasn’t been a monster all this time. No. The US fights wars, but their armed forces are like white knights, chivalrous, no torture, no deliberate targeting of civilians; the US fights an aseptic style of war, thank God. They are the good guys, they are the Jedi knights. I sometimes am under the impression that Westerners have been too seduced by their own simplistic narratives, where the world can be clearly divided into the red, bad-guys team and the blue, good-guys team. Russians are always evil, and have terrible intentions. Americans, Israelis and Britons are always good. Maybe with a few Anakins, but in the end they’re all Jedi. You can sense that tone in many analysts. Maybe they’re suffering from some form of Cold-War, Hollywood-spiced PTSD.

    Like that other piece I saw linked here, were that dude said without a hint of irony that Crimea had been Russian “only” since 1783. That “only” turned that phrase into an incredible understatement. By that historical reference as to what is “recent”, American genocides in Southeast Asia happened only yesterday. But I bet that very same guy considers Vietnam-era genocidal carpet bombing as a thing from the distant past, hey? “Oh, that was so long ago, way before the Internet!” OK…

    By the way, I don’t think the Russians are the good guys. Oh, no. We all know that they are quite capable (and maybe even fond) of genocidal tactics themselves. But to say that so far Putin hasn’t very cleverly outmaneuvered every Western move, is simply denying the truth (or, I now tend to think, it is that “PTSD”). But don’t ask this guy, because he concludes that Putin is just a gambler, not a strategist.

    Not that Russia will not bring a second “Afghanistan” to itself. Perhaps it will. But even mentioning Afghanistan, and Russian involvement there, by an analyst who is trying hard to downplay Russia, is ridiculous. Not because the Soviet invasion was OK, but because –JEEZ!– America not only set the trap for the Soviets, but they were dumb enough to fall themselves into that very same trap just over a decade (a second ago!) later, and drag their allies along for one of history’s biggest fiascoes! I can’t understand how Westerners can, at this moment in history, point a finger at Russia to remind them of Afghanistan. It really blows my mind.

    I’m sorry for the rant. I guess that, being a brown guy from Latin America, I have a different perspective. I really dislike those good-guys/bad-guys assumptions.

    Cheers from Mexico City!

  2. Paul Woodward

    Oscar — I suggest you read this piece again and read it more carefully. The author, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, is no apologist for the U.S.. He’s also a “brown guy,” but he’s from Pakistan, which means — among other things — that he has a more personal perspective on drone warfare than the average Western polemicist.

    When quoting Nietzsche, he’s pointing out that the U.S., through its war on terrorism, became a monster which provided rhetorical gifts to those who would then legitimize their own monstrous actions by conducting them in the name of fighting terrorism. In geopolitics, America is reaping what it sowed — and on the ground, Syrians are paying the price.

    As for those who are warning that Russia is wading into a quagmire — this might sound like an effort to score points in the long-running West vs. East narrative, but what it’s really about is U.S. domestic politics. It’s a way for the administration to justify its own constrained actions in the name of avoiding getting sucked into the same quagmire.

    One of the many perverse consequences of insisting on looking at Syria through an anti-American/anti-imperialist lens has been that as Syrian cities were pulverized by Russian-made shells, fired from Russian-made tanks on the ground and by barrel bombs dropped from Russian-made helicopters, the question of intervention was somehow always narrowed to the actions of the West.

    Contrary to the notion that the U.S. and NATO were itching to leap headlong into the war, their actions have been perpetually constrained.

    Assad’s ability to rule the skies has been facilitated by Israel’s opposition to rebels being supplied with surface to air missiles — out of fear some of them would find their way into the hands of Hezbollah.

    At the same time, while anti-interventionists blithely ignore the massive interventions in Syria by Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia, the fact that the U.S. has supplied TOW anti-tank missiles to rebels is no doubt perceived as unconscionable American interference.

    What sustains such perceptions is a willingness to look at Syria while ignoring Syrians — to treat the majority of those fighting and those displaced as pawns with no will of their own. In that perspective, anti-imperialism has constructed its own form of racism in which millions of people became invisible.

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